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Aesthetics and Aquatic Plants

By combining real and artificial greenery, pond plant displays add drama and interest to retailers’ water garden sections.



With the advent of spring, pond hobbyists are itching to get their feet wet—and savvy retailers are ready to inspire customers’ water garden daydreams with tubs and tanks filled with colorful and practical aquatic plants.

It’s an important category that deserves some attention, said Mark Hamron owner of Tea, S.D.-based AquariumPlants.com, particularly for retailers that sell plants and products for both ponds and aquariums.

“Our customer data shows that there is a huge percentage of pond owners who have aquariums, and vice versa,” he said. 

Numbers from the American Pet Product Association’s 2015-2016 National Pet Owners Survey back up Hamron’s observations. Among surveyed fish owners, 20 percent of freshwater owners and 38 percent of saltwater owners have a pond, and “the most common garden pond accessory owned is live plants (62 percent),” the survey reports. So pond owners invest in live plants more than equipment, ornaments or treatments.

The pond plants they buy include marginal bog plants, submerged oxygenators, and floating waterlilies and lotus, said Kathie Dienes, marketing manager at The Pond Guy in Armada, Mich.   

“Waterlilies are popular because they are the easiest for customers to identify as an aquatic plant, and their large, vibrant blooms are eye catching,” she said. “Customers easily can picture what they will look like in their pond. Water hyacinth are also very popular for water gardens as pond coverage, natural filters and habitat for fish. With no planting required, they are also easy to add to a pond.”

Topping the waterlily hot list are the winners of International Water Garden Society’s 2015 New Waterlily Competition, including Nymphaea “Srichon,” a tropical intersubgeneric hybrid grown by Nopchai Chansilpa, and Nymphaea “Manickam,” a hardy pink variety grown by Vasu Manickam.

“‘Srichon’ boasts large flowers that change color gradually from the first-day bloom to the fifth-day bloom,” said Tamara Kilbane, a horticulturist at Denver Botanic Gardens in Denver. “‘Manickam’ has peony-like, pink blooms with a blush of yellow on the inner petals. Its high petal count and appealing color combination made it a standout.”  

Artificial plants for ponds, however, aren’t as popular, Dienes said.

“We don’t see a lot of sales of artificial plants,” she said. “When customers build a pond, they really are creating an ecosystem, and live plants are a big part of that.”

Pond Plants: Success Story

Chris Troll, manager at Bridges Pets, Gifts & Water Gardens in Snohomish, Wash., said his store offers a range of live and artificial pond and aquarium plants—and a stunning 175-gallon bow-front tank filled with plants and angelfish draws curious customers to the shop’s aquatics section.

“We sell Elodea, Anubias, banana plants, Cryptocorynes and various sword plants, and in the spring we offer water lettuce and hyacinth for outdoor plants,” he said, adding that selection is important to hobbyists.

“Our customers tend to buy more of the easy-to-grow plants like Elodea or sword plants,” he said.

Display tanks decked out in full décor sell plants, Troll added.

“We tried prepackaged live plants for a while, but they were not very well received,” he said. “It seems best to display live plants in the same manner in which they would be displayed in the customer’s own pond or aquarium.”

Bridges stocks a range of artificial aquatic plants, too, and they’re displayed in tanks as well as on pegboard and spin racks, Troll said.

“Our selection includes both natural-looking, green-colored plants, as well as some hot pink, purple and fluorescent varieties,” he said. “One relatively new product for us is GloFish plastic plants. We have a display tank of these items that really stand out under blue LED lighting. Packaged GloFish plastic plants are also available on an endcap display.”

 The main differences between Bridges’ live and artificial plant displays are the substrate and lighting, Troll said.

  “Most of our live plant displays contain substrate, whereas our artificial plant displays contain gravel,” he said. “Another difference is the lighting used. Some artificial plants may look best under one light spectrum, but live plants may require another light spectrum, which may be slightly dimmer in appearance. If requirements such as these are considered first, then live and artificial plant displays should be able to be successfully combined.”

The greatest challenge in merchandising live plants in display tanks is managing the mess, Troll said, adding that staying on top of housecleaning chores keeps the displays looking their best.

“During the course of the day as live plants in display tanks get uprooted and sold, the soil may become stirred and the water may become cloudy and filled with floating plant fragments,” he said. “The timely removal of debris and replanting is a big part of keeping these aquatic plant displays looking good for our customers.”


Pond Plants: Display and Marketing

Whether promoting live aquatic plants or artificial, Chris Miller of Pacific Store Designs in Garden Grove, Calif., said retailers should keep five expert merchandising truths in mind, including making the plant display visible and accessible, keeping the tanks and surrounding area tidy, creating a dynamic merchandiser, stocking with abundance and using effective signage.

Here, he breaks down those truths and how they can be applied to a pond plant display:

• ON VISIBILITY: A pond plant display ought to be eye catching and accessible, Miller said. Customers should be able to look at it from above and from the sides, giving them an idea of how they can replicate the setup in their own water garden.

“Set up a live display with running water trickling down to create noise and movement, to attract the eyes and ears, to give it some life,” he said. “It’s like creating a mannequin for a pond: Use the plants and props you have in the store to create something that people will want in their yard.”   

• ON APPEARANCE: In addition to setting up a live “pond mannequin,” Miller said retailers should purposefully merchandise their artificial plants near the live plants.

“Group them vertically by color,” he advised. “And group them by size, style and usage. Have the big ones on the bottom, the medium ones in the middle, and the small ones on top.”

For retailers that offer plants at good-better-best price points, Miller offered this expert tip: “People read from left to right, so stock the less-expensive plants on the left and more expensive plants on the right.”

He also said that retailers should put together an idea book that shows customers how to integrate the various plants in their water garden.

“Retailers could suggest some designs, or they could have a picture book or an LED screen showing a PowerPoint presentation of different setups,” he said. “They could also have a pre-made worksheet—a pre-made shopping list—with a list of things to consider when installing pond plants.”

• ON ORGANIZATION: Rather than clutter aisles and shelves with too much inventory, Miller suggests efficient space savers, such as swing panels, sliding panels and tiered racks that transform a 4-foot section of retail real estate into 13 feet of merchandising magic.

“Retailers just don’t have enough space,” he said. “And when they use big rounders or floor fixtures that violate the aisles and customer space with no rhyme or reason as to why they’re there, there’s not enough room to display respectably. Instead, a pond plant display should tell a story and make it easier for customers to shop.”

• ON ABUNDANCE: It might be tempting to stock one of two of many different SKUs of pond plants—but Miller said stocking abundantly is a better way.

“Don’t give customers too many buying decisions, too much selection and not enough abundance,” he said. “Instead, have four or five items and have a greater quantity of them.”

Offering 15 types of plants and stocking 20 of each will sell more than offering 35 types and stocking two or three of each, he said.

“There’s a balance between selection and abundance,” Miller said. “If someone buys those three plants that are on the shelf and the retailer can’t get the order fulfilled for a week, then that shelf sits empty and there’s a chance of losing a sale. It’s really tough to sell if it’s not in stock.”  

• ON SIGNAGE: Signs that describe the plants need to be clear, concise and easy to read, Miller said.

“Provide a brief description about the usage and benefits of the specific plant,” he said. “And limit it to three bullet points so it’s easily absorbed. Don’t give too much information, but tell a story about why that plant would benefit somebody in their pond. Some examples would be, ‘Great for live-bearing fish,’ ‘Great for keeping the oxygen levels up’ or ‘Helps keep the water clear.’”


Capitalize on Crossover

Underwater, aquarium plants and pond plants differ in many ways, but in the retail world, they have many similarities—and they offer opportunities for promotional overlap, said Michael Acerra, marketing representative for Penn-Plax Inc. in Hauppauge, N.Y.

 “Some artificial aquarium plants are modeled after brightly colored tropical varieties that don’t have much of an application in ponds, but it’s not at all uncommon for the pond hobbyist to check out the local aquarium store in search of some plants that better fit the aesthetic of their pond,” he said.

Though many hobbyists prefer larger plants that fit an outdoor pond, smaller aquarium-size plants can make a splash in water gardens, Acerra said.

“Some of our retailers who specialize in the pond hobby buy some of our artificial aquarium plants for customers who have smaller ponds, or for customers who are looking to establish a greater feeling of depth in a larger pond by varying the size of the plants in their pond,” he said.


Must-Have Pond Plants

Kathie Dienes, marketing manager at The Pond Guy in Armada, Mich., said retailers should keep these pond plants in their regular inventory, along with a selection of hardy waterlilies and lotus:

Marginal/Bog Plants:

  • Iris
  • Pickerel rush
  • Silk stockings arrowhead

Floating Plants:

  • Water hyacinth
  • Water lettuce
  • Parrot’s feather

Oxygenators/Submerged Plants:

  • Red ludwigia
  • Hornwort
  • Vallisneria

This article originally appeared in the April 2016 issue of Pet Product News.

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